Q: I recently bought an off-track Thoroughbred, and he’s had time to let down as well as a saddle fitter and vet out to check him, and all is fine. He goes pretty well in one direction, but he won’t bend at all going the other way. Can you offer any advice on why he does this and how to get him to bend in his bad direction?
Some exercise riders, in an effort to hold their mounts in check, will crank their horse’s head around to make sure they are not run off with.
It will take time and patience to teach your horse his new job. I put all the horses that come through New Vocations in snaffle bits (either steel or rubber) as they learn to move their shoulders independently and to bend. If I get a horse that really is having trouble understanding the concept of bending, I’ll put him on the longeline wearing a surcingle with properly adjusted side reins and work him in the harder direction. I tighten the inside side rein a bit more so his head tips to the inside, which gives him the feeling of a correct bend.
Additionally, I teach all our horses to leg-yield correctly; this, in turn, will teach them to bend. I’ll ask them to leg-yield off and on the long side of the arena twice before making the turn on the short side, but how many times you can do it will depend on how large your arena is. We also do lots of serpentines, focusing on bending in the direction of travel and then changing the bend as the horse changes direction.
A final note: While we as riders tend to focus on the horse’s bad side, it’s very important to remember to work his good direction too.
See all of our off-track Thoroughbred resources at HorseChannel.com/OTTB.
MELISSA KING is the Thoroughbred trainer for New Vocations Racehorse Program in Lexington, Ky.
This article originally appeared in the December 2014 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!